Within the historical context established by the frontier setting, the Western hero of the early dime novel typically functions as an agent of civilization. A fiercely independent man, he is neither suited to nor comfortable amid the laws and proprieties of the settlement. Instead, he lives a perilous but free life on the frontier. Here he contends with the forces of ignorance and savagery. Always triumphant, he slowly but surely pushes back the wilderness, blazing a trail which his more civilized brothers may follow to a golden age in which a free and equal citizenry, physically invigorated and spiritually purified by close and continual contact with Nature, will someday live in perfect harmony.
Two basic types of protagonists appear in the early dime novel, each of whom personifies one extreme of the ambivalent American attitude toward the wilderness. Modeled after men like Davy Crockett or Lew Wetzel, the ugly white man personifies the possible atavistic effects upon the human character of the moral and social vacuum offered by the wilderness-its dangerous freedom, its absence of institutional controls. If the ugly